Friday, May 18, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: Backing Up


I ended my last post with a threat of bears in Two Point on Lac Seul,
but for this post I need to back up to our departure from Lansdowne House;
for the trip to Sioux Lookout had a long lasting impact on one of us. 

Our sudden eviction from the Forestry house in Lansdowne House,
followed by our even more sudden departure from the village,
left us no time to think about leaving or to say goodbye
to some of the people we knew.  It was that abrupt.

Mom, my siblings, and I scrambled into the Norseman
tied on at the Hudson Bay dock and settled into our seats.
Dad handed up Gretchen, and I took her and held her on my lap,
along with a Nancy Drew book I was reading.


The Hudson Bay Dock
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved



Anguish filled my heart and blurred my eyes which threatened to overflow.
I loved Lansdowne House and its people, and it physically hurt to leave.

Someone unhitched us from the dock and pushed us off.
Then the pilot started the engine and taxied out into the open lake.
When we arrived we had landed on skis on ice,
now we raced across the water on pontoons.
The plane made a little step up and lifted into the air.

The pilot circled over the village to give us a last look.
I'm sure it was every bit as hard for Dad waving from the dock.
Then the pilot headed for the southern horizon,
and Lansdowne House shrank and vanished into the bush.


A Last Look
at the Father's Island
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved



I dug into my Nancy Drew mystery with a fierce concentration,
trying not to think about leaving and trying not to get airsick.
The Norseman droned through choppy air, and I fought the urge to throw up.

Suddenly Roy was shaking my arm, and he and Mom were shouting
above the noise of the engine for me to look out the window.
I looked below and saw a long, ragged line of smoke and flame
devouring the spindly trees and skirting the boggiest patches and lakes.

It was likely the forest fire that had forced us out of our Forestry home,
the one that firefighters were moving into our house that evening to tackle.


Forest Fire
Location and Date Unknown


Already that spring, wildfires started by lightening were popping up 
in the vast wilderness of the boreal forest in northern Ontario,
and I can't be certain that this fire, twenty or thirty minutes
south of Lansdowne House, was the fire that evicted us.
  
No one knew it yet, but the fire season in June and July of 1961 would prove severe, setting a record that stood for half a century.
The Department of Lands and Forests would battle over 200 wildfires
with many firefighters, fifty-six airplanes, and eleven helicopters
during the two months in its Northwestern Ontario Region. 

The savage sight of billowing smoke and bright flames crowning trees mesmerized us. 
But for me the violence was surreal, for we bump-glided above it
sensing no searing heat, no crackle of flame, nor acrid odor of smoke.
The raging fire slipped behind us and vanished just as Lansdowne House had.

Landing on pontoons for the first time thrilled us, 
the experience heightened by a frisson of fear that we might not hit the water right.

Certainly I was remembering Dad's tale about a Superior pilot
who misjudged where the surface of the water was when landing in Armstrong in 1959.
He tried to land ten feet below the actual surface,
his plane went to the bottom of the lake,
and it was two days before his body was recovered.

We did not suffer the same fate, but landed uneventfully
and taxied on the lake to the Austin Airways dock in Nakina.


Austin Airways Bush Plane Base
Nakina, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved






Austin Airways Norseman 
Fueling at the Dock
Nakina, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved




I have no memory of getting from the dock to the train station,
but I'm quite certain that the Austin Airways staff helped us,
just as they had when we flew into Lansdowne House.
There is something special about people living in unforgiving environments.
They step up to help friends or strangers with warmth and compassion,
recognizing that another time it could easily be them in a tough spot.


Austin Airways and the Nakina Hotel
Fall 1960
Nakina, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

To be continued...


Till next time ~
Fundy Blue



Crossing Petit Passage to Tiverton
Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved






Notes:

1.  Dad's Tale:
     I shared my father's story in this post:  TLL: Bush Planes and the Puzzle of Thanksgiving.

2.  Forest Fires 1961:
     We didn't know it at the time, but 1961 would be a record year for forest fires in northwestern
     Ontario with 1,534,917 acres or 621,159 hectares burning.  That record wasn't broken until 2011.
     ottawa.ctvnews.ca

     Foster, W. T.  "Aircraft in Forest Fire Control in Ontario."  The Forestry Chronicle (1962): p. 46.
     Link

3.  Landing on Pontoons:  


Landing on Pontoons in Nakina
youtube  ~  tatarjj2007




Main Street Nakina
Looking West, Fall 1960
Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved





Main Street Nakina
Looking East, Fall 1960
Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved






For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Lansdowne House, Nakina, and Sioux Lookout
Northern Ontario, Canada




Lac Seul
Northern Canada
Google Maps  Map Data 2018

To See a Photo of Lac Seul Click Here





28 comments:

  1. I am a calm water and clear sky kind of girl, rough, even a tiny wobble and I want dry land. Those bush pilots, how brave, and local people so thoughtful and caring, that is how it should be all over.

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    1. Hi, Jean! Bush pilots were and are brave. Unfortunately, some of the pilots we knew died in crashes. Flying in remote northern areas remains a dangerous business. I'd fly again on a bush plane in a heartbeat. I hope your weekend is going well!

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  2. Sure must have been quite the sight to see as you flew over. Wildfires never give up, everywhere it seems. Good the plane didn't go into the drink too haha There are some great people out there. It seems the worse the conditions the more of them there are to help out.

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    1. It was an unforgettable sight, Pat. Back then it was all about Smokey the Bear. Now we know so much more about forestry ecology and the importance of fire to forest health. At that time forestry was one career I considered. That ended immediately when I froze on a ladder on a forestry tower about 50 feet off the ground. The forest ranger had to climb down from the lookout and literally peel me off the ladder and help me climb down. I had no idea I was that scared of heights. I was just a Girl Guide on a field trip excited about being in a real lookout station. I had to sit on the ground while everyone else resumed the tour. It still rankles ~ LOL Have a good weekend, my friend!

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    2. lol can't climb a tower but can fly to here and there hmmmm

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  3. That must've been so surreal seeing that fire from the air.

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    1. It was, Diane! I've seen a number of wildfires from commercial airliners, but forest fires are much more vivid from a flying altitude of under 10,000 feet. I remember it like a dream. Enjoy your weekend!

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  4. Yes, to leave so abruptly -- no goodbyes, no time to adjust, no transition -- that must have been difficult for everyone on both sides of the equation.

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    Replies
    1. I moved a lot growing up. It was always difficult. Leaving Lansdowne House was the hardest of all. It seems strange to me, but the person I kept in contact with over the years was Father Ouimet. He was an amazing man. So many questions I wish I had asked him! We think people will go on forever, and suddenly they are gone. Have a great weekend with your Rare One!

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  5. The pictures so great along with your stories. The fire was amazing and cleansing to the landscape. Love these letters.

    Teresa

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Teresa! I treasure the photos I have from that time in my life. The problem with fire is when it burns into human habitat. I shake my head at all the development that has gone on in areas of high fire risk in Colorado. But then, there are people who build on live volcanoes, hills of mud, floodplains ... Have a great weekend!

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  6. I found myself weeping a bit here, fires can cause so much destruction. I wonder about the people left behind. How many lives were lost? I am sure this was a trying time in your life. Thank goodness for Nancy Drew.

    Have a nice weekend!

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Truedessa! The people in Lansdowne House were fine. We had to leave abruptly because we were living in the Forestry Department building which was used as a base to fight fires in the area. There literally was no place in Lansdowne House where our family of seven could stay. Dad returned to the Father's Island to bunk with a roommate for the rest of the school year. I find it difficult to think of all the plants and animals that die in a wildfire, even though I know that fire is an renewing force in forest ecology. I loved Nancy Drew and read most of her books. Have a good one!

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  7. I'd imagine water landings would be softer but I could be wrong. I only felt a landing twice, wasn't so bad.

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    Replies
    1. I think that a landing depends on the pilot. Water or land, if he or she doesn't judge the landing right, it can be rough. We landed hard once in West Palm Beach. The big plane bounced three times, hard. There was a cowboy near us wearing boots and a cowboy hat. He slapped his knee and yelled, "Woo hoo! Let's go round and do that again!" I was very glad to pull into the gate! That was a big enough scare for me! Have a great weekend!

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  8. That must've been such a surreal day for you. How well do your siblings remember it?

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    1. Hi, Alex! I will never forget that day and its unusual events. Roy certainly remembers it; my youngest sister Bertie doesn't. I'll have to check with Barb and Donnie to be sure. They remember odd bits and pieces from that time, like Barb and the tree roots and Donnie and the Ojibwa girls playing with her curls. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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  9. Did the house in Lansdowne survive? Have you ever been back to the area? I have dreams of going back to see my childhood home. It is faraway, though. Or I am. :)

    "...a threat of bears"

    Still screaming.

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Sandi. Yes the house and village survived. The fire didn't burn all the way to Lansdowne House. Our home had been in the forestry building, and it was used as a base from which to fight fires in that area. I have never been back to Lansdowne House, but I have big hopes of getting back in a year or two. I have always meant to return, but the community is remote even today. Bears are scary! Have a great rest of the weekend!

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  10. You bookworm you..reading Nancy while you were flying away from your old life into a new situation. I can't imagine how your mother was feeling leaving dad there and not knowing what was going to happen to her and her children. The photos that you include always give additional information to the reader and boost your story. This narrative is a wonderful project for you and a delight to us who read it.

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    Replies
    1. I'm still a book worm, Peggy! LOL Reading is one of the greatest pleasures in my life. I'm an addict ~ I must read every day! I'll bet it's a rare day that you don't read! How I wish my parents had been able to take more photos! They just didn't have the money to spare. At the beginning of Grade 8, Dad gave me his old Brownie Hawkeye camera, and I haven't stopped taking pictures since. With digital cameras, I am completely out of control. I know you get that! All the best to you and Don!

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  11. Greetings Louise. Sorry you never got to say your farewells to all of your associates and friends when abruptly leaving Landsdowne House. It's a shame bush fires occur, as they threaten the landscape and are dangerous to wildlife. There are many brave firefighters out there, and I applaud their bravery. Blessings to you.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew.

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    1. Blessing to you, too, Andrew! I always think of the wildlife, animals and plants, during a fire. It is really hard to think about how they are suffering, even though I know fire brings renewal. All the best to you! Take care, my poetic friend! I'll be by soon ~ I'm still struggling to get into a blogging rhythm. I hope you are enjoying wonderful late spring weather. Windsor looked glorious during the Royal wedding!

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  12. Having to leave so fast, the fires. Must have been a hard time for all! Big Hugs My Friend!

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    1. It was hard, Stacy! Big hugs back at you! I look at the painting you gave me every day!

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  13. Sudden leaving from place whare you spent many good and even tough times is quite a sad specially when you don't have time to say goodbye to people you know or look at the place with a contemplation .

    you portrait the process so beautifully dear Louise as i felt i was with you holding book in hand and looking below at burning forest where you used to live for long time.
    i can feel the terror of that sight and peace of the leaving at the same time .

    This was great pleasure that you were safe landed safely (thank you for the video which gave me idea of your thrilling landing) i only saw such landings on t.v.

    dearest Louise you are magnificent writer and have great way with words .your witty way of writing and powerful expressions are pure joy to read as you have command on your dealing with words and harmony with thoughts !

    i feel so lucky that i have you as precious and very special friend ! i have not enough words to say tHANK YOU SOOO MUCH for your kindness and generosity that you always show in your kind sweet words on my blog which uplift my soul and bless my heart with true deep sense of joy and gratitude!

    yes i am lucky that living in third floor of a building right now which is situated in the heart of islamabad city ,temps are comparatively low here and weather is beautiful breezy .City is surrounded by lashing hills and filled with many many lovely places to visit everyday .
    you amazed me with your knowledge of my country which obviously comes from your love for maps :)

    When i will be back to khairpur and normal routine of life i will certainly try to follow your kind advice about joining the incw but main thin will be the concern that will i be able to follow the all rules specially having time to visit back the all wonderful members !

    i am overwhelmed by your precious best wishes and believe me my dear friend same are here in my heart for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    i think A that you mention here is name of my hubby which is Ali ,my all sons name also start with A ahsan , Asad Ahmed.

    Sending you heartiest best wishes and warm tight hugs !!!

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    1. Thank you for your kind, understanding, and encouraging words, Baili! And thank you for sharing the names of your family members. I love the A theme! It's been the fashion in America for a couple of decades now to name children with first names that all begin with the same letter. J and K have been particularly popular.

      I do love maps, and I have looked at your country's map many times since I began reading your blog. You've made it such a real place for me! I am very grateful that you are a special friend.

      No worries about the IWSG. If you feel like it at some point, jump in! I make sure I have a post each month, and I visit the members I can. That's all everyone does ~ what they can.

      Meanwhile enjoy your visit to Islamabad, and especially the cooler weather! Warm tight hugs right back at you! I hope that you and your husband and two youngest sons make lots of special memories exploring lovely places. Take care, my friend!

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  14. Pretty projects and great idea,Thank you for the tutorial and for sharing !

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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate the time and energy you put into making them very much.